Casting the school play
We had completed the most difficult part of the casting. It was an all-boys school and we had decided that the school play was to be Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s an American comedy about a young man who discovers that his two sweet aunties invite lonely old men into their house so that they can poison them and then bury them in the cellar. They do this simply to save the old men from the miseries of loneliness in the city of New York.
I feared that finding two boys to take on the roles of the old ladies would be difficult, but there were no end of volunteers. This was encouraging; clearly there was enough enthusiasm to make a success of this production. Another piece of casting had also proved easy. The young nephew has a girlfriend and one of the younger women teachers agreed to take on the role. Her smile alone was enough for her to succeed. However, she was slightly tall for a woman and finding a student to play opposite her, as her boyfriend, was not easy.
There was a cast meeting, after school, in my classroom. Next to Elaine, the hero’s girlfriend, we had his two aunts, a pair of twelve-year-old boys from Year Eight. An older boy who tried to make his hair stand up in a Mohican was really keen to play the mad older brother who dug the graves in the cellar and buried the aunts’ victims. We had already found a police officer, swinging his night stick and yet another brother who turns up unexpectedly. He has with him a tame plastic surgeon who operates on his face whenever he needs a new identity.
However, we were struggling. Who could we persuade to play the male lead, Mortimer, Elaine’s boyfriend, who doesn’t want her to find out about the killing, who doesn’t want his aunts to be arrested and who has to confront his other brother, the really evil one, who decides to move back into the family home.
We were standing there, thinking that our play would simply not take place, when the door opened. It was the teacher from the room opposite where he taught RE. He was carrying some books that he had borrowed earlier; now I wouldn’t have to remind him that I wanted them back promptly. One of the boys coughed and I looked round at the cast. They were all staring at the figure in the doorway, one of the younger teachers, always good fun, always ready to try something new.
“Phillip,” I said. “Could you come and stand over here, please.” I pointed to Elaine. There was no need for me to tell the boys what to do; they moved over and stood around me. We looked at the two teachers standing there. Phillip stood open-mouthed and frowning, wondering what sort of game we were playing with him. We looked at one another and nodded.
“Phillip,” I said, “we’re putting on a play and we’re looking for someone to take the main role. You don’t mind helping us out do you.”
Phillip looked around the five of us and realised he really had no choice in the matter. The play was a great success.
In one sentence explain the problem that confronted the writer when he wanted to put on Arsenic and Old Lace.
What did the cast members do that indicated that the right man had just come into the room?
Why do you think the writer invited the male teacher to come and stand next to the rest of the cast?